Friday, March 7, 2008

Dark Days, about to get darker

Today is an incredibly dark one for the people of the Middle East, both because of recent new atrocities and because of what they portend.

Another massive bombing in Baghdad, with almost 70 killed and scores wounded, and another bombing in Mosul that killed four. In both bombings, elements of "al-Qaeda" are the suspected perpetrators. The US and Iraqi militaries have made Mosul the focus of the next campaign to rid Iraq of al-Qaeda, and the Mosul bombing is surely evidence that al-Qaeda indeed remains a force there. But violence is now trending upward again across much of Iraq, with yesterday's bombing in Baghdad the worst there in several months. This is the kind of trend that only lends credibility to ongoing talk about the "Pause" after the "Surge" - which means more months of US occupation, and probably more months of a US policy of trying to buy off former (and probably future) Sunni insurgents (i.e., the members of the highly touted Sunni "Awakening" - or Sahwa). That policy is now mostly serving to build up Sunni military capabilities for a future civil war and to undercut the authority and writ of the central government in Baghdad (even if its writ extends not much farther than the borders of the Green Zone in Baghdad). So, Surge or no Surge, the Mesopotamian beat goes on . . . more Iraqis destroyed, the lives of more US military personnel destroyed, more borrowing and spending by the Bush administration to pay for the bloody mess they created, the future of the US economy (and with it, the "American Dream" of our children and grandchildren) swirling the bowl.

And meanwhile, the people of Gaza - and probably the West Bank, and maybe Lebanon - are facing even greater catastrophe in the wake of the killing of seven students at a famous seminary in West Jerusalem. This is a horrific act, one that has inflamed what was already a highly combustible situation. The assassin (who may have been a driver for the seminary, although the seminary administration denies it - as well they might, given the consequences) belonged to a previously unknown group that has declared its intent to avenge the recent assassination of the Hizbollah "engineer" Imad Mugniyeh (for which no one has claimed responsibility, but the Israelis are suspected). That in itself will enable many in Israel to link the seminary shootings to Hizbollah, which would not augur well for Lebanon's future. Earlier today though it was reported that Hamas had taken credit for the shootings, although later Hamas backed away from what it referred to as this "honor." Mr. Bush is already on record as condemning the savagery of this shooting. Too bad that he couldn't have condemned, while he was at it, the savagery of recent days' IDF attacks that took the lives of so many innocent Gazans, including at least one infant girl; pictures of little Amira with a bloody hole in her head are all over the internet. Of course he'll never do that - beyond some vanilla expression of regret for loss of innocent life, if he goes even that far. Meanwhile, many in the US and Israel are shocked - SHOCKED! - that Gazans were celebrating in the streets after hearing the news of the seminary shootings. Such celebrations are indeed a sad comment on a sad situation, but after Israel had declared your elected government illegitimate and unacceptable and refused to negotiate with it, had targeted your leaders (both military and political) for assassination, had spent months blocking food and essential supplies from reaching you, had imposed daily humiliation and the threat of starvation on you and your family, and then had bombed and strafed them - wouldn't you feel happy about a little payback? Yes, celebrating "payback" looks awful, and those of us who want the killing and suffering to stop and want to see a peaceful solution to this decades-old conflict know that Gazans dancing in the streets will not advance that cause one millimeter. But neither will Israel's attempts to eradicate Gazans' resistance.

And that, my friends, is what's about to happen, yet again, but this time on a scale not seen in a while. Public opinion, and the leaders of many Israeli political factions, already blame Olmert for the seminary shootings, not to mention the Qassam rockets that Gaza militants have been firing at Sderot for months (and more recently, the longer-range Katyushas the have reached as far as Ashkelon, a formerly ancient Philistine capital that now is a major Israeli city). Olmert has announced that "negotiations" with Mahmud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will continue nonetheless, so as far as the Bush administration is concerned, Olmert is doing his "due diligence" by the "Annapolis peace process" (oh, pullease!), so Bush will not stand in the way when Olmert sends in the IDF to crush Gaza. Count on it.

And, finally, to offer a bit more historical context. One of the political factions demanding action from Olmert is the settlements movement - i.e., those Jewish settlers - many of them from the United States, including the parents of one of the young students killed at the seminary - who advocate the expansion of the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Over the years since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, nothing did more to inflame tensions between Israelis and Palestinians than the founding and steady expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip. Those settlements have been fostered and sanctioned by the Israeli government from the get-go (as well as by George W. Bush in a famous statement made several years ago to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon); they are also considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions and other relevant international law. The Mercaz Harav yeshiva - the seminary where the shootings took place - was one of the ideological well-springs of the settlement movement.

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